If you’ve ever had trouble with a footpath, bus stop, or other piece of urban infrastructure, you probably know the hassles of dealing with a local council. It can be incredibly difficult just to track down the right avenue to report issues, let alone get them sorted in a timely fashion.
Humans aren’t always great at respecting each other’s privacy. However, common sense says there’s a clear boundary when it comes to the thoughts in one’s own head and the feelings in one’s heart.
For bus drivers in Beijing though, it seems that’s no longer the case. These professional drivers are now being asked to wear emotional monitors while on the job, raising concerns from both legal and privacy advocates. But the devices aren’t really anything more than workout monitors, and whether they can actually make good on their Orwellian promise remains to be seen.
In Your Head, In Your Head!
When George Orwell wrote 1984, it was only 1949. However, he was able to foresee a world in which surveillance was omnipresent and inescapable. He also envsioned the concept of thoughtcrime, where simply contemplating the wrong things could get you in serious trouble with the authorities.
As we all know, Orwell was way off – these predictions didn’t become reality until well into the 2000s. In the latest horrifying development, technologies now exist that claim to be able to monitor one’s emotional state. Now, China’s transportation sector is rushing to push them on their workforces.
Building a weather station isn’t too tall of an order for anyone getting into an electronics project. There are plenty of plans online, and you can even put your station on Weather Underground if it meets certain standards. These usually have access to a reliable source of power, though, and like any electronics project can get challenging quickly once it needs to work reliably in a remote location. The weather station from [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] has met this challenge though, and has been working reliably for three years now.
Getting that sort of reliability from any circuit that has to be powered by an unreliable source (solar, wind, etc.) and a battery is quite a challenge. Not only do you need to sort out the power management and make sure that you can get enough sun in the winter for your application, but you’ll need to do some extreme low power modifications to your circuitry as well. This weather station accomplishes all of that, helped by using LoRa for communication, and also comes complete with a separate hardware watchdog timer that can reboot the weather station if it loses power or hangs up for some reason.
If you’ve been looking for a weather station to build, this is a great place to start. [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] also goes through the assembly of the weather station, complete with a guy-wire-supported platform to mount it on. There are other weather stations out there too, if you need even more ideas about saving power in remote areas.
Famed whistleblower [Edward Snowden] has recently taken to YouTube to announce Haven: an Open Source application designed to allow security-conscious users turn old unused Android smartphones and tablets into high-tech monitoring devices for free. While arguably Haven doesn’t do anything that wasn’t already possible with software on the market, the fact that it’s Open Source and designed from the ground up for security does make it a bit more compelling than what’s been available thus far.
Developed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Haven is advertised as something of a role-reversal for the surveillance state. Instead of a smartphone’s microphone and camera spying on its owner, Haven allows the user to use those sensors to perform their own monitoring. It’s not limited to the camera and microphone either, Haven can also pull data from the smartphone’s ambient light sensor and accelerometer to help determine when somebody has moved the device or entered the room. There’s even support for monitoring the device’s power status: so if somebody tries to unplug the device or cut power to the room, the switch over to the battery will trigger the monitoring to go active.
Thanks to the Open Source nature of Haven, it’s hoped that continued development (community and otherwise) will see an expansion of the application’s capabilities. To give an example of a potential enhancement, [Snowden] mentions the possibility of using the smartphone’s barometer to detect the opening of doors and windows.
With most commercially available motion activated monitor systems, such as Nest Cam, the device requires a constant Internet connection and a subscription. Haven, on the other hand, is designed to do everything on the local device without the need for a connection to the Internet, so an intruder can’t just knock out your Wi-Fi to kill all of your monitoring. Once Haven sees or hears something it wants you to know about it can send an alert over standard SMS, or if you’re really security minded, the end-to-end encrypted Signal.
There’s a big to-do going on right now in Germany over particulate-matter air pollution. Stuttgart, Germany’s “motor city” and one of Dante’s seven circles of Hell during rush hour, had the nation’s first-ever air pollution alert last year. Cities are considering banning older diesel cars outright. So far, Stuttgart’s no-driving days have been voluntary, and the change of the seasons has helped a lot as well. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem.
But how big is the issue? And where is it localized? Or is particulate pollution localized at all? These questions would benefit from a distributed network of particulate sensors, and the OK Lab in Stuttgart has put together a simple project(translated here) to get a lot of networked sensors out into the wild, on the cheap.
The basic build is an ESP8266 with an SDS011 particulate sensor attached, with a temperature and humidity sensor if you’re feeling fancy. The suggested housing is very clever: two 90° PVC pipe segments to keep the rain out but let the dust in through a small pipe. The firmware that they supply takes care of getting the device online through your home WiFi. Once you have it running, shoot them an e-mail and you’re online. If you want help, swing by the shackspace.
We love these sort of aggregated, citizen-science monitoring projects — especially when they’re designed so that the buy-in is low, both in terms of money spent and difficulty of getting your sensor online. This effort reminds us of Blitzortung, this radiation-monitoring network, or of the 2014 Hackaday-Prize-Winning SATNOGS. While we understand the need for expensive and calibrated equipment, it’s also interesting to see how far one can get with many many more cheap devices.
[Tyler S.] has built a home automation and monitoring system dubbed ED-E, or Eddie. The name is an amalgam of its two main components, the Edison board from Intel, and some ESP8266 modules.
ED-E’s first job is to monitor the house for extraordinary situations. It does this with a small suite of sensors. It can detect flame, sound, gas, air quality, temperature, and humidity. With this array, it’s probably possible to capture every critical failure a house could experience, from burglars to water pipe leaks. It uploads all this data to Intel’s Analytics Cloud where we assume something magical happens to it.
ED-E can also sense the state of other things in the house, such as doors, with remote sensors. The door monitors, for example, are an ESP8266 and a momentary switch in a plastic case with a lithium ion battery. We’re not sure how long they’ll run, but presumably the Analytic Cloud will let us know if the battery is low via the aforementioned magic.
Lastly, ED-E, can turn things in the house on and off. This is accomplished in 100% Hackaday-approved (if not UL-approved) style with a device that appears to be a lamp cable fed into a spray painted Altoids tin.
ED-E wins some style points for its casing. It’s a very well executed hack, and we’d not previously considered just how many awful situations can be detected with off the shelf sensors.
Inspired by our BlinkM Arduino coverage a short while back, his circuit incorporates a BlinkM as well as several other components he already had on hand. He disassembled the garage door switch situated in the house and fit the BlinkM into the switch box once he had finished programming it. A set of wires was run to the BlinkM, connecting it to both a power supply located in the garage as well as the magnetic switch he mounted on the door.
The end result is a simple and elegant indicator that leaves plenty of room for expansion. In the near future, he plans on adding an additional indicator strobe to let him know when the mail has arrived, not unlike this system we covered a few months ago.
Stick around to see a quick video demonstration of his garage door indicator in action.